By the end of the nineteenth century, the entire landscape of Bengali poetry, songs and music was dominated by the works of Rabindranath Tagore. As yet, he remains the most popular, most famous and foremost composer of Bengali poetry and art music. For the first time, a live performance of the recently discovered English songs (not works of translation) composed by Tagore in the Western musical tradition were presented by Victoria Memorial and Hindusthan Records at the Eastern Quadrangle of the memorial before distinguished personalities, scholars, singers, academicians and hundreds of enthusiastic listeners and admirers of Tagore. It was a historic occasion. The excitement was greater because these hitherto unknown compositions, discovered by two Kolkatans, throw new light on an unexplored side of Tagore’s multifaceted genius and vast musical treasure. A compact disc entitled Numerous Strings by Hindusthan Records, containing these new English hymns, together with two hymns in Bengali arranged in the Western musical tradition, was released on the occasion. For the first time these English hymns of Tagore have been recorded and published to the world, and recently archived on 22 October 2017, at the Meadville Lombard Theological School, Chicago, run by the Unitarian Universalist Association. This was made possible by the efforts of acclaimed Rabindra Sangeet singer and researcher, Prof. Debashish Raychaudhuri and his singer-daughter Rohini Raychaudhuri during their recent musical sojourn in the US. The programme initiated by Debashish Raychaudhuri’s introduction was presented within a traditional Western framework after a few customary loud chords, by Voices Of Calcutta with Debashish Raychaudhuri (solo tenor) and Rohini (solo soprano) and the Kolkata Youth Orchestra conducted by Sanjib Mondal. The 17-piece orchestra comprising violins, viola, cello and piano was supported by a large chorus of male and female soprano and alto singers, orchestrated by Upamanyu Kar.
A noted vocalist of the Gwalior gharana of Hindustani music, Balwant Rai Bhatt was the foremost disciple of ‘Sangeet Martand’ Omkarnath Thakur. His death anniversary falls in May, his second this year. Fondly known as ‘Bhaiyajee’ or elder brother he was highly regarded as a vaggeyakara. He wrote about 1500 bandishes under the pen name ‘Bhavranga’. He also created about 13 new ragas and 10 talas, included in the three volumes of Bhavranga Lahari, a collection of his compositions. A fine combination of performer, composer and erudite teacher, he proved to be a rare case of the triumph of spirit over body. Balwant was born on 23 September 1921 in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, as the second child of Gulabrai Purushottam Bhatt and Harkunwar Bhatt. At the age of six he was sent to the local school, but unfortunately, at the tender age of seven, the child lost his sight in both eyes after small pox. His music training In April 1929, on the advice of Devshankar Jethalal Pandya, Balwant Rai’s maternal uncle, the child was enrolled in the first standard in the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind in Bombay. The medium of education was Gujarati and Marathi. Other subjects taught were mathematics, music, vocal and instrumental (esraj, harmonium, tabla, violin and jaltarang) as well as some crafts. Extra curricular activities included exercise, sports, listening to records of classical music and bhajans, and bringing out a weekly booklet in Braille. Balwant Rai was active in editing the weekly journal Satyaprakash as well as composing music for orchestras.
“My dear friends, on 1 April 2018 I will be 97 years young, just three years from hitting a century. In advance of that day, I, as a self-appointed elder, greet and wish you all the best in the years ahead,” wrote our evergreen non-agenarian friend, philosopher and guide P.V. Krishnamoorthy to a host of friends, including me. PVK, as he is affectionately known, had a long and illustrious career with radio and television that started soon after he came to India as an evacuee from Rangoon in 1944. He joined the External Services Division of All India Radio, New Delhi as a Newsreader cum Announcer and rose to retire as the first Director General of Television in 1979. I went to seek the blessings of our big boss on his birthday and he regaled us with many interesting recollections peppered with wit and humour. His razor sharp memories of radio and television came alive vivid and colourful even though they belonged to a sound and black and white era. So let me share PVK’s story in his words told in his inimitable style. Early childhood I was born in Rangoon on 1 April 1921, and that too in a girl’s school of which my father was a founder. I was the youngest of seven children and my eldest sister Pattammal who used to look after me often took me with her to school. So my education started on a firm footing in a girl’s school and perhaps that is why I never felt shy with girls (says this with a twinkle in his eyes). My initiation into music also started early on the lap of my eldest sister Rajeswari, during her music lessons from Krishnamurthy Bhagavatar. My brother Subbudu was a super critic even then and would sit in front and correct my sisters whenever they made a mistake. My interest grew when I won the first prize for music in school and Subbudu accompanied me on the harmonium. But people told me that I won only because of Subbudu’s accompaniment. I felt it was unfair and complained to my sister and she suggested that I learn to play the harmonium. Sometimes you need a little push and that is how I got into it.
SHANTA GOKHALE Shanta Gokhale is a bilingual writer, translator, journalist, art and theatre critic. Schooled at Bombay Scottish, she went to England and did her B.A. (Hons.) from Bristol University and followed it up with an M.A. in English literature from Mumbai University. She worked as lecturer in English at Elphinstone College and H.R. College of Commerce, as a sub-editor with Femina, and as a PR Executive with Glaxo Laboratories. She began her journalistic career as Arts Editor with the Times of India where she derived the essence of many art forms like theatre, music, architecture and painting. Simultaneously, she also wrote the screenplays for many documentaries and feature films. As a creative writer, she has written novels like Rita Welinkar and Tya Varshi and the play Avinash. Two important critical works by her are Playwright at the Centre – Marathi Drama from 1843 to the Present and The Theatre of Veenapani Chawla – Theory, Practice and Performance. She has written a few plays and short stories, and innumerable newspaper articles and is a blogger. She was a culture columnist with The Independent, The Sunday Times of India, Mid-Day and, since 2006, with Mumbai Mirror. She has written a history of Marathi theatre and edited books on the works of theatre directors Satyadev Dubey, Veenapani Chawla, and on the oral history of experimental theatre in Mumbai, titled The Scenes We Made. However, her significant work is as a translator. She has translated plays by Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Elkunchwar, Satish Alekar, G.P. Deshpande and Rajeev Naik from Marathi into English and Gieve Patel’s play Mr. Behram and Jerry Pinto’s novel Em and the Big Hoom from English into Marathi, as well as a controversial novel like Dhag. M.E.
6 Sruti Box
9 News & Notes
12 Bala century v Bala on Bharatanatyam
14 Birthday calendar
16 Tagore’s Western songs unearthed
21 Balwant Rai Bhatt
26 Interview v P.V. Krishnamoorthy
31 Heritage v Tiruvarur
37 Tribute v Vempati Ravi Shankar
38 Musicians of Kerala
v Vechoor Hariharasubramania Iyer
46 The challenge of translation
v Shanta Gokhale
50 Debate v Of microphones and acoustics
52 From the wings v S. Nagarajan
54 From the Editor
Front Cover: Rabindranath Tagore
(Painting by Keshav)